AUDIO: Continental 737 rescuers initially confused over crash location

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Audio recordings detailing the aftermath of the Continental Airlines Boeing 737-500 runway run-off at Denver indicate the initial difficulty that air traffic controllers experienced trying to direct rescue crews to the crash site.

In the darkness, emergency vehicles initially headed away from the site and Denver's tower controller several times had to relay the location of the jet in order to guide rescuers to the scene.

The 737 had veered off the left side of runway 34R during departure for Houston on 20 December, coming to rest between runways 34R and 34L, north of the WC taxiway and a fire station.

Newly-released audio archives reveal that, after clearing flight CO1404 for take-off, the controller was alerted to a problem by an unidentified crew. "Tower, it looks like you had a plane go off of 34R on the left side," it states, prompting a surprised response from the tower: "Say that again?"

After failing to raise CO1404, the tower halts subsequent departures before an unidentified radio call says: "Looks like fire over there."

Audio link: Denver tower's radio transmissions with rescuers

The tower controller seeks an available ground operations centre, raises a unit called Ops 9, and declares: "Ops 9, just had an aircraft departure off 34R, exited the runway at [taxiway] Whiskey Charlie, appears to be on fire immediately adjacent to the fire house - red alert."

After stating that the aircraft appears to be north of WC and west of 34R, the controller tells Ops 9 that the rescue vehicles are "coming out of the station going the wrong way", adding: "They need to go eastbound out of the fire-house."

denver airport map

The controller then contacts a rescue unit, Ops 7, gives the crash location again, and advises that the rescue vehicles can cross the closed runway 34R.

But he then asks: "Ops 7, it appears your truck is going southbound on 34R. Is that what they want to do, away from the aircraft?"

Ops 7 responds: "I'll turn them around, tower, I'll turn them around."

The controller repeats the location again, saying that "everybody that's on 34R needs to go northbound", telling the rescue crews that he can "see the flames" before the emergency crews finally advise that they "have the glow" and request confirmation of the aircraft type.

While the aircraft was destroyed in the accident, and several of the 115 occupants sustained injuries, there were no fatalities.